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Wednesday, November 01, 2006
3:59 PM      

It makes sense
that prime (or fixed focal-length) lenses would be sharper than zoom lenses. The zoom action varies the relationship between lens elements throughout its range of focal lengths, meaning that their configuration is likely to be less than optimal most of the time.

I've been thinking about getting a prime lens that would be great for certain kinds of portraits, and I'd been leaning toward an 85mm, but I started to read bad things about the bokeh on the 85mm. So, I went for the only lens that Cartier-Bresson used — a 50mm. It's the lens that came with my first 35mm SLR back in high school, too, so it's a lens that holds a certain nostalgia. Of course, with my dx sensor, it's effectively a 75mm, but I digress.

Reviews offered some useful guidance for my purchase decision: The ƒ1.4 lens has more distortion than the ƒ1.8, and the 1.8 is nearly 1/3 the price. For about 150 bucks, I walked out of the store with the 50mm lens, a UV filter, and a collapsible rubber hood. It's one of the cheapest camera-related purchases I can make and it stands to help me make some substantially better images (it's easy to spend more than that on a bag, which has no direct effect on the quality of your images).

The 50mm is that cheap, because it's made in China, and the lens barrel is plastic. I'm told the glass is the same as it's been since the introduction of the lens, and it's reassuring to see a metal bayonet plate on the back of the lens.

The lens is at least 1/2 pound lighter than my 28-105. That means less camera shake in hand-held shots, and a little less pull on the shoulder, but it's all about the glass, and the proof of the pudding is in the two sets of photos. These are un-resized direct samples from two raw captures — no sharpening and no adjustments were applied. I just pulled these rectangles from areas of the two images.

The eyes look so different in the two shots, that I thought maybe I didn't have the same point of focus, so I looked at the couch and the hair. The difference there is just as striking. It's less obvious in these samples, but it seems that the color rendition is also nicer with the 50.

There's no doubt that zoom lenses are extremely effective for some shooting situations, especially those were walking back and forth to compose is not an option. But a prime lens affords a more detailed image in any setting that is practical. I'm using the word detail, rather than sharpness to emphasize that we're talking about a quality of the image that cannot be added after the fact by digital ‘sharpening.’ Sharpening works by making edges more apparent, which gives the impression of sharpness. It does not add detail, and it can't make something that's out of focus appear to be in focus.

Last night , I took my light, fast (2-1/2 stops faster) lens and a flash with me to the Halloween parade. It was definitely fun. The surprising thing was how much that 75mm (effective) focal length behaved like a telephoto. I often had to back up, but the light weight and mostly one-handed operation of my camera made up for it. It has me thinking that maybe I want a wide-angle prime lens, too...

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Sunday, October 29, 2006
12:48 PM      

Why is this song
running through my head? Van Halen's Jump has been playing on the radio in my head for the last couple of days. I've never liked that song.


And Now, Ming

A while ago, I wrote about ‘Taz’ (below) joining us. About 6 weeks after she got here, we got her sister Ming. It took a while for Ming to come out of her shell, but she's definitely coming into her own. It's amazing and entertaining to watch them play, fight, and groom each other. Happily, neither of them seems to mind a camera.


October 27, 2006 2:03:08 PM EDT
I got an e-mail from The Container Store, featuring stocking-stuffer specials.

I thought stocking stuffers were the last thing people bought during the holidaze. Today, I replied to an e-vite and got an ad featuring holiday specials.

And I thought it was a drag when Christmas marketing started before the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving. Now, we're getting e-mail before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween, I've seen two articles this season bemoaning how all the women's halloween costumes in places like Target, K-Mart and Wal-Mart (ostensibly family-friendly places where a mom can take her two young girls to get some simple mouse ears) are selling nothing but sexy/naughty costumes for women. In the 10/16/06 New York Times, Allison Glock asks ‘where did all the ghosts, hobos and vampires go?’

In Barnes & Noble on Union Square yesterday, I overheard three guys discussing halloween costumes. ‘You could be a vampire,’ one of them said... another elaborated ‘you could be a goth vampire... with fangs’ ... yada yada. And I thought vampires were the inspiration of the goth fetish. Goth vampire sounds redundant, and besides how could you tell the goth vampire from the regular one?

Back to Allison's question -- I guess (at least in the minds of the big box stores) the vampires are all goth guys.


I got itchy trigger finger about a week ago.
I had TiVo'd a show on Comedy Central because it ran an amazing commercial, and I had wanted to grab a couple of frames before I deleted it. Oops... gone, and I haven't seen it since.

I had thought it was just off the wall, until Denise chimed in with this spot-on observation: The white girl uses her brains to overcome the sexually predatory, bionically enhanced (and probably much less intelligent) black girl.

The ad is for Amp'd, which ran another racially stereotypical ad that raised eyebrows earlier this year:

...a [white] guy standing on a bus is playing with some device, when he commands two guys in the back to start fighting; they comply. He then tells some guy with a boombox to crank up some old funk tune; up comes the beat. Then he turns to a black woman and commands, "You, shake your junk". She gets up, grabs the pole that's conveniently right there, and turns the bus into a stripper's workout room, shaking her prodigious junk for all it's worth (and I'll argue that only until pornified rap videos became commonplace did a whole lot of people know this colloquial meaning of "junk").

It's hard to isolate the more troubling part of this brief scene: is it that a white man can command a black woman to "shake your junk" as though neither of them had ever left the strip club (or worse, the plantation), or that she does it without complaint? At least she keeps her clothes on. Then again, this is a 30-second ad for a mass-market product....

– Mark Reynolds: Modern Day Hottietots

Ads can't debunk any of the stereotypes they employs, because that would take up too much the marketing bandwidth. An acquaintance of mine used to talk about ‘vampire video—’ advertising that captured the viewer's attention but didn't drive home product recognition. So, ads have to rely on stereotypes and archetypes that are intrinsically accepted at face value — ideas that have a certain truthiness (thanks, Stephen). And while a commercial can't waste message debunking stereotypes, they often blithely reinforce marginal ones.

When we look at commercials as a collection of symbols, the black woman tends to read as all black women, while a white guy will typically be read as all guys. [Notice that the quote I pulled from Mr. Reynolds' article even glosses over the race of the guys, but the woman is explicitly called out as being black.]

Advertisers have the sole agenda of selling product. If they're willing to program kids to pester their parents for things [see The Corporation], they're not likely to have much conscience about reinforcing racism. Making it seem funny or edgy just makes it go down easier... And besides, if Too Live Crew can do it, so can Amp'd, right?

Which brings me to this:

Why Don't Blacks Support Republicans?
Because when their campaigns are desperate they always go back to the well of racism. The Republican party is running in Tennessee on a platform of the big black buck coming for the white women.

That's something of a turn-off to black voters.

– Olliver Wills

This one is quite crafty, as Josh Marshall points out:

But then you see that one 'man on the street interview' isn't quite like the rest. It's almost like those old Sesame Street segments, one of these things is not like the other.

It's the one spot with the platinum blonde with no visible clothes on, vamping "I met Harold at the Playboy Party."

What policy issue is she talking about? It's not connected to anything. It's just, 'I'm a loose white woman. I hooked up with Harold at the Playboy mansion. And I can't wait for him to do me again.'

Talking Points Memo 10/24

See for yourself...

An insidious aspect of this kind of advertising, is that it leaves a lot of margin for deniability, much as in the recent case of Dick Cheney's insistence that he simply meant dunking ‘detainees’ (we can't call them prisoners, after all) in water – and not the technique known as ‘waterboarding’ (aka simulated drowning) – when he said some interrogation methods are a ‘no-brainer.’ He left it to his mouthpieces to handle the rest of the dissembling.

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